Show Us the Value for Government Programmes, Demand UK MPs

By Peter Simpson
Peter Simpson
Peter Simpson
Peter Simpson is a British journalist who has worked for major international news media and spent a decade covering China from Beijing, including the 2008 Beijing Olympics, during which he broke many exclusives. He is interested in all facets of the Sino-UK relationship and geopolitics. Other interests include sport, business, culture, and travel.
May 27, 2022 Updated: May 28, 2022

There is no evidence the hundreds of billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money spent by the UK government on major projects like immigration provided value for money.

That is the stark finding from the Commons Public Accounts Committee which examined the value for money of government projects, programmes, and service delivery.

It has concluded the government pays only lip service to robust evaluation—”or at all”—to improve outcomes of major policy spends.

“Government spends hundreds of billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on major projects with no evidence what is working or idea what to do when it isn’t,” said Dame Meg Hillier MP, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, which draws on the work of the National Audit Office to hold government officials to account for the economy, efficiency, and effectiveness of public spending.

The committee also said Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Implementation Unit found in December 2019 that only 8 percent of the £432 billion spent on major projects had “robust” impact evaluation plans in place, while 64 percent of spend had no evaluation arrangements.

And it urged for better transparency around how cash is being spent on projects.

“Transparency is critical for the public to understand the evidence behind decisions and how money is being spent [and] also allows departments to learn lessons from past projects and from each other,” the committee said.

It added: “Ministers have the final say on whether evaluations should be published, and some parts of government are reluctant to publish their evaluations.”

The committee—made up of cross-party MPs—recommended the Treasury work with the Cabinet Office to publish a tracker with details of evaluations including their planned publication date, and explanations from departments where publication is delayed or withheld.

Two departments should also set out their objectives for improving the evaluation systems and how it is measured, it advised.

Chair Dame Meg Hillier MP used the government’s controversial immigration policy to illustrate its findings.

“The Home Office describes its Rwanda refugee policy as ‘experimental and novel’—so much that the Permanent Secretary sought a direction from the Minister to spend the money required, because it could not be shown that the programme will deliver its objectives with value for taxpayers’ money,” she said.

She added: “Now we are told that the terms of the agreement with the Rwandan government may trump transparency to the UK taxpayer.”

“That is absolutely unacceptable. Facing intertwined crises in our environment, energy supply, and cost-of-living, every penny counts. Government must show its cards and prove it is delivering or stop a programme quickly when it does not deliver—not gamble away taxpayers’ money.”

A government spokesperson told the media it had created the Evaluation Task Force to bolster its evaluation capability and the Treasury made evaluation a key part of the 2020 and 2021 spending reviews.

“The Procurement Bill will build on this work, requiring transparency publications on contract performance and allowing public sector organisations to ban underperforming suppliers from bidding for new contracts,” added the spokesperson.

Peter Simpson is a British journalist who has worked for major international news media and spent a decade covering China from Beijing, including the 2008 Beijing Olympics, during which he broke many exclusives. He is interested in all facets of the Sino-UK relationship and geopolitics. Other interests include sport, business, culture, and travel.